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Riot spreads to Onitsha, 35 killed

Posted by By NWABUEZE OKONKWO, Onitsha, DAVID ONWUCHEKWA, Nnewi, MARIAM ALESHINLOYE, Jos, CHRISTOPHER OJI, GEOFFREY ANYANWU, Awka and PAUL ORUDE, Bauchi on 2006/02/22 | Views: 934 |

Riot spreads to Onitsha, 35 killed


Security formations nationwide were Tuesday put on red alert to check possible spill-over of violent retaliation against killings of Christians in religious riots which began weekend in northern cities of Maiduguri and Katsina.

Security formations nationwide were Tuesday put on red alert to check possible spill-over of violent retaliation against killings of Christians in religious riots which began weekend in northern cities of Maiduguri and Katsina.

But it was a measure that came a bit late, as it could not stop reprisals in Onitsha, Anambra State, which claimed over 35 lives, with mosques, homesteads and property of people believed to be of predominantly Islamic northern origin destroyed.

At least about 58 people, believed to be Christians were killed in an outbreak of deadly protest by Muslims in Maiduguri, Borno State, at the weekend, angered by the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in a Danish and other European publications.

The toll was notched up by 16 Monday, following another violent demonstration by Muslims in Bauchi, incensed by alleged seizure and desecration of the Holy Quran by a female teacher rebuking her listless pupil in a secondary school.

Properties, including about 40 churches were reportedly burnt by the rampaging rioters, which provoked the Onitsha action.

No fewer than 35 persons were confirmed dead Tuesday by the Nigerian Red Cross Society in the commercial city of Onitsha, in what appeared to be spontaneous reprisal attack on Moslems residing in the commercial city and its environs.

Also, the Red Cross Society rescued over 2,000 injured victims and evacuated them to Onitsha Army Barracks and various police stations, even as mosques scattered in various parts of Onitsha were set ablaze, the same time mini-shops belonging to the Muslims were being looted and destroyed by the mob.
Daily Sun gathered that the incident sparked off at about 11 a.m. from the Bridge-head end of the commercial city when the mob allegedly pounced on the Hausas and started clubbing some of them to death, and at the same time pushing others into the nearby River Niger.

Sources told Daily Sun that the mob was allegedly provoked by the sight of corpses of victims of religious riots in the Northern parts of the country which affected mainly Christians and Igbo indigenes whose bodies were allegedly brought down to Onitsha early morning Tuesday in a luxury bus belonging to prominent transporters from the Eastern part of the country.

Eye-witnesses confirmed that the incident later attracted the presence of anti-riot policemen who arrived the scenes and used teargas to disperse the mob, a situation which led to a stampede and temporary closure of the Onitsha main market and other markets in the adjoining streets.

As at the time of filing this report, it was not yet clear the actual number of lives lost in the mayhem and how many Mosques burnt, but sources hinted that the Central Mosque located at Bida Road, near the main market and other mini-Mosques at Haruna Street, Pam Pam Lane, Sokoto Road and others were already in flames.

All efforts to get in touch with the police Area Commander for Onitsha, Mr. Dennis Anyagafu (ACP), proved abortive as his telephone line rang without response, but the state police public relations officer (PPRO), Mr. Fidelis Agbo (DSP) and the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Moses Anegbode, who confirmed the burning down of the Mosques to newsmen over the telephone, said they had not yet obtained detailed information on the mayhem.

The Divisional police officer at Fegge, Mr. Bright Kakada (CSP), could not be reached as he was said to have rushed to the scene on a rescue mission, but the state chairman of the Nigerian Red Cross Society, Dr. Peter Emeka Katchy, told newsmen at the police station that he and his team had rescued more than 2,000 victims, just as he personally counted over 35 bodies lying dead in various parts of the city.

Katchy who noted that he was still receiving distress calls from his team scattered all over, said he was also going out to source for food and mattresses for the rescued victims who were seen gathered at the station, while the injured ones were being given first aid treatment by the Red Cross medical team.

According to a traveller from Lagos who was delayed for hours on the bridge as a result of the clash, “bodies just littered everywhere, especially at the Onitsha end of the bridge where you have the ram/chicken market. The whole market is razed. I counted more than 60 bodies.”
Tension went up in many states in the country with the authorities moving to check the spread of the violence.

About 2000 mobile policemen were quickly drafted to quell the disturbances even as the state government imposed a dusk to dawn curfew on Onitsha. The curfew which took effect Tuesday is to last between the hours of 7p.m and 7a.m. A personally signed statement by the Governor, Dr Chris Ngige, warned that law enforcement agencies have been directed to deal decisively with anyone who flouted the order.

Ngige, who was with the Commander 302 Artillery Regiment Onitsha, Col. Lukas Chollompam Logagwoma and State Director of State Security Service (SSS), Ahmed Saleh noted that reports reaching the government have it that some lives have been lost and properties destroyed, adding that the situation was being taken care of.

Reports from Nnewi, Anambra State said members of the Hausawa community in the town disappeared into thin air with some of them seeking refuge in army barracks for fear of reprisal attack by their Igbo host communities.
Their mosque near DCC and residential places including Hundred Foot Road and Amauko Nnewichi were all deserted but for the heavy presence of armed policemen.

The new Nnewi Area Commander, Mr Godwin O. Obi (ACP) said he ordered police vigilance within the areas to avoid a breakdown of law and order after receiving reports from leaders of the Hausa community that their members were fleeing. Tension still mounts in the town.
Also, normalcy is yet to return to the streets of Bauchi as violent protest which erupted Monday brought commercial activities to a standstill just as the death toll increased to 16 with over 100 people receiving various degrees of injuries.

The Red Cross Society of Nigeria gave the latest figure in an interview with Daily Sun Tuesday.
Troops were deployed to quell the situation, which mostly affected Kofar Wambe along Gombe Road, Jahun, Nassarwa and Kobi with possible fears that there might be reprisal attacks on Muslims in the Christian-dominated area of Yelwa and Tafawa Balewa Local Government of the state.

The state Commissioner of Police, Richard Chime met with religious leaders and stakeholders urging them to appeal to their followers not to take laws into their hands in the name of protecting their religions or their political beliefs to avoid an innocent protest being hijacked by hooligans.
Also in Lagos, the state Police Commissioner, (CP) Emmanuel Adebayo placed his men and officers on red alert.

Adebayo ordered the officer in charge of Security and Criminal Investigation Bureau (SCIB), Chief Superintendent of Police, Kenneth Ebrison and the officer in charge of Surveillance, Gabriel Amadi, to get intelligence report on possible plan to foment trouble and nip it in the bud.

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